Business Technology

Facebook ads don’t add up: how I proved they are cheating

“So why don’t you cheat?”  It took me a while to recover.   My father has always been my moral compass.   He has stood through many decades of doing business with absolute integrity refusing to bribe anyone in a country where this is unheard of.   He didn’t fall for the trap of taking funding from the European Union or going to the stock market when all other tech companies where making a quick buck.   He is almost a saint in the way he helps everyone and anyone he meets, often without them even knowing about it.

We were discussing a recent client of mine, a difficult case.   It is still in the early phases and I haven’t quite figured out how to work my social engineering magic in order to bring them clients. What my father was really asking is “how will they know that it is real customers clicking on their website and not some click farm?”   The man is a born business person and goes straight to the heart of a problem even though he has never used Facebook or any social media.

The answer is simple.   Anyone with a slight knowledge of how to use web site analytics will see right through it.   And – more importantly – it just won’t make any business sense medium term as they will not be getting new customers and new business.   Which is what I promise them.   But this is not what Mark Zuckerberg promises my customer when he entices them with Facebook advertising.   He is simply selling clicks to ignorant business people.

Most of my customers have already used Facebook ads before I start with them.   They are all perplexed. “I saw a big spike in traffic but then…nothing.” It isn’t just that the traffic disappears the day you stop paying for FB ads, it is that all that traffic seems to amount to …nothing.    Are you paying $50 a day?   Funny how you get a completely stable amount of hits during those days.

This bothered me on a methodological level initially.   “What if my customers’ budgets are all spent on ‘early morning’ type people?” I worried.   So I begun to set up experiments. I split the day into particular time segments that seemed to make sense to me based on experience with status updates, Likes and such.   I am the Greek Dan Zarella after all.     Women checking Facebook between 6.30 and 8.30 are quite a specific bunch.   Organized!   Men online between 11 and 12.30 another.   Lazy!   I have even discovered a niche of females that do a “facebook lunch break”.   So all I had to do was set up the same advertisement and shoot it out to different demographics.   And then monitor it every hour to see what is happening.   (Yes, you need big monitors to handle the big spreadsheets without getting dizzy!)

It was amazing.   “Boy, these guys at Facebook must have some really clever algorithms” I mused.   They somehow seemed to be spreading the clicks around the day.   It made no sense.   Humans are highly unlikely to be so consistent.   As the day closed the clicks trickled and everytime by midnight Facebook had managed to get the campaign to the exact daily target.   “Wow, hiring all those geeks from Google must have paid off” I thought.    “They have build something that even Google AdWords can’t do.”

And then, somewhere near midnight, in between stats, being more online on Facebook than I think is healthy because of this project, it appeared.   Right there, in front of me, on top of the other adverts was one of my test ads.   I left the tab open and scrambled to the summary to triple check.   Yes, this one was clearly targeted to men aged 45-64.   I double check my profile.   Yes, Facebook knows very well that I am male but only 41.  So what is it doing?

It is bending the rules! If “The social network” showed the whole world something is that someone who cheats and lies once, will probably do it again, given the chance.    The people at Facebook know that it is extremely unlikely that anyone would discover this trick.   After all most people only have one profile.   Unless you specifically set out to prove them wrong, your website analytics will be hard to monitor for such small variance in age of visitors.   And all too many advertisers on Facebook are only using it to funnel people into their Facebook page where the analytics are even worse.

I have criticized Facebook advertising on many levels, ranging from the pathetic demographic information they provide (outside the US it is much worse) to the kind of clicking you usually get from it.   But this is different.   They are wasting what can soon become a powerful tool by rushing to capitalize on it by cheating.   Judging from their rate of improvement in search they have the brainpower to do a proper job.   They have the network to make something more powerful than GoogleAds.   They should just focus on what is unique about this new advertising medium rather than trying to bolster up the numbers to impress investors.

10/3/2011 Just discovered an even worse thing Facebook is doing.   There are charging above the set limit!  (Article and screen grabs in Greek here.)

Business Communication

Why the Business Software Alliance can’t sue me

When the BSA started out, it was pretty obvious that they were making up the numbers.   Having studied statistics and living in the IT world, to me, it was painfu to watchl.  Not only were they generalising in a bad way but they were communicating too forcefully.     This is a recipe for a backlash.

In the past week I put out a series of articles explaining why BSA Hellas has dropped in revenues this year in Greece and how they are terrible at what matters most right now; social media.   They have bought their way into mainstream (=boring + nobody notices) media references but blogs and social media are simply disregarding them.   To add insult to injury my guide with “ten things the BSA doesn’t want you to know” seems to be going viral.

BSA has structural and communication problems.   Initially it was just a few major American software companies teaming up to clamp down on piracy.  They spent on promotion and rode on the novelty.  They lobbied hard.  In Greece Bill Gates shook hands with the prime minister and received a number of agreements behind the headlines going as far as getting civil servants in tax enforcement to work for BSA!   But on this basic level, software piracy is more like pharmaceuticals than the music industry.  Especially in times of economic crises the question will inevitably pop up:   Why should a poor country, months away from restructuring it’s debts, be paying billions of dollars to extremely profitable companies for a recipe they invented many years ago?

Adobe or Autodesk will be hard pressed to claim they are innovating much in features that really make a difference to productivity.  They throw together teams to produce incemental improvements and then do the rounds collecting update revenue.

BSA is also languishing in committee-itis.  They can’t catch pirates for the same reason countries around the region can’t clamp down on Somali piracy.   As more member companies joined in, it slowed down.   Less decisions, less forcefull, slower reactions.  More companies, more opinions, more objections, more need for transparency.  It is becoming clear to the public that this is more a consortium for lobbying of private interests than anything to do with the good of the economy like they tried to portray themselves when they started.   So individual members are just improvising, like Adobe’s CEO saying that cloud computing will reduce piracy.

On a communicational level they made mistakes.  Plenty mistakes.   The scandals about piracy whistleblower payments, hyperboles about piracy encouraging violence and kidnapping, ridiculous quasiscientific generalisations about the relationship between software piracy and the economy or job losses.   Microsoft’s otherwise quite admirable PR machine overdoes it by making claims like the “fact” that Indians are quite consious about piracy.

As the dust settles and the world focuses on getting over this crisis we could rename BSA as the Bull Shamefully Advertises… except they aren’t even advertising much anymore! It would only take a nudget in social media to position the Business Software Alliance as a first class legitimate enemy.    So please, someone from the BSA, please come after me.  I have three PCs at home more or less doing everything online with no software installed and two at work.  I think it is all legal but I am sure you can find some ridiculous way to go after me.   Maybe I don’t have the “proper” (in BSA terms) invoices or proof of purchase for one of the preinstalled software on my laptop.   You know the drill.   Maybe you expected me to do a software audit annually.  I will just wear a Tshirt saying “today I am acting as network administrator” and waste a day doing it and five days communicating with BSA members to ask if they have changed something in their terms.  (I won’t be sure I am legitimate even after all that effort – many Greek reps of software companies don’t really know how it all works.)   Or maybe I will purchase some used software just to ensure a good legal precedent.

So please sue me.   Make my day.

Business Technology

Nokia-Microsoft. A serious case of “I told you so”

People in the technology sector often get their predictions wrong.   Many saw a “multimedia revolution” coming back in the 80’s but few knew what it would entail.  Would we sell speakers and CD-roms, or more software and color printers?   And sure, we need a new DVD format but will it come now or in ten years?

And there are other predictions that take guts.  Back in 2000 on my TV show I first went on record to state that Nokia has a serious long term problem.   Then in 2007 I explained it forcefully in a blog post.  “Why I would not rush to buy Nokia stocks or buy their stocks” was heresy.  My point isn’t so much that I am good at predicting technology trends but that there is a serious communication problem.   Journalists are all too often caught up in their own agendas.  Even more so in an economic crisis where they are being converted to machine cogs producing more and more content for various channels.  Journalists were never good at this game because they were never close enough to the action.    Somewhere between trade shows, closed door meetings, technology previews and actually trying to sell the stuff, people in the industry have a much much more rounded picture of what is really going on.
So it is people in the industry that need to learn to communicate more.  Get blogging.